“Magnetic Fields” (Numbers Station, 11290 and 6645khz)

Powerful avatars for the idea of the indecipherable, numbers station broadcasts have existed for nearly fifty years. No amateur sleuth has ever cracked a numbers station code, even though the collating and curating of actual broadcasts has accelerated since the formation of the Conet Project. It’s widely presumed that the first numbers stations were sending messages to far-flung, state-based spy networks, and part of the pleasure of listening to numbers stations is vicarious: tuning in to something that’s not for you—spying on the spies. The Conet Project describes “Magnetic Fields” as a relatively new station, and “transmission quality is usually poor and schedule erratic.” The station’s moniker comes from the musical identifier that opens each broadcast: a short selection from Jean Michel Jarre’s Les Chants Magnetiques (1981). Thus, this particular numbers station is a highly self-reflexive, sonically commenting on the nature of radio wave broadcasting in general and on the potential for overlap and interference. And it’s true: the air is full of layered, disembodied, garbled voices, waiting for an ear. What we hear sometimes seems tantalizing: if only we had the key, we might learn that some world leader is about to be assassinated, or that some “false flag” covert op has been cancelled. But according to “scowl,” “Agents were told that if the first number is even or odd (depending on the agent), it was a real message otherwise they could ignore the rest.” Because everyone is monitoring everyone, all the time, “most of the time there was no message.” So, generally, when we listen to the numbers stations, we’re hearing someone signaling someone that they have nothing to say. Over and over. Empty of non-aesthetic content rather than indecipherable as such. Something meant merely to divert attention, like a pop tune. But then, of course, that might be precisely what they want you to think.

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